On the violence of Christendom

I have a love-hate relationship with the notion of 'Christendom'. Its legacy is so mixed and so ambiguous. However, at its heart lies a fundamentally dangerous construal of the relationship between church and state.

Here is Meic Pearse commenting on the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) in which Protestants and Catholic tensions in Europe burst out into terrible acts of violence.

"That such incidents have any place at all in a history of the Christian church is a condemnation, not merely of the participants, but of the entire phenomenon of a politicized Christendom whereby churches have, and claim, a legal monopoly on entire populations. The Thirty Years' War (like the Crusades or the Inquisition) is not an accidental product of this idea, nor an aberration, but its inevitable consequence." (The Age of Reason, p. 160)

Sadly I fear that he is correct. The same message comes out time and again in the history of Christendom in its diverse Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant manifestations. I hope that Africa does not repeat our mistakes here.

When it comes to church and state I find myself very sympathetic towards the Anabaptists and the later non-conformists. Free church, free state.


Anonymous said…
Of course, John Hick argues that the Chalcedonian doctrine of the Incarnation has been the cause of all sorts of human misery from crusades to anti-semitism. He thinks this is one good reason for rejecting the traditional doctrine of the Incarnation. But I say the misuse of a thing is no argument against its right use. Could we say something similar here, I wonder? I'm guessing you'll say no. But even if one rejects an Erastian model of Church government (or something very like it), one need not embrace Anabaptism ... need one?
Robin Parry said…
Hick is wrong if he says that. How absurd to blame the Crusades and anti-semitism on Calcedonian christology!!!

In principle I am open to the possibility that Christendom can be done right (which is why I wrote that 'I fear that [Pearse] is right' - I am not sure that he is). However, I suspect that the model will not work.

But this does not make me an anabaptist. As I said - my sympathy is with the nonconformists and they were not anabaptist. I do think that Christians should be involved in political life and that Christian principles and values should inform what they do. But I think that a Christian vision of the state is one that protects the freedom of religion. So I prefer a non-Christendom model of political engagement.

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